A poor copy of James Wan’s signature style, The Last Key will suffice when there’s nothing else on Netflix.
⭐ ⭐ ½
It’s been seven years since the original Insidious stormed the box office. A carnival ride that never felt cheap, Insidious was surprisingly good and made director James Wan the closest thing modern horror has to a household name. In the intervening years, the series has churned out two other films, and Wan has moved from classical horror (The Conjuring) to blockbuster fare like Furious 7. Sadly, the Insidious franchise has failed to move forward in his absence. Instead, it’s become steadily more derivative and frustrating, with The Last Key representing the lowest point of Wan’s well-imitated style.
Following the events of Insidious: Chapter 3 (a prequel to the original film), Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) receives a call for help from her childhood home in Five Keys, New Mexico. Initially reluctant, Elise is drawn in by the desire to right the wrongs she witnessed (and ran away from) as a child. Tagging along are her now permanent sidekicks Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), still as annoying as ever. Once there, Elise digs into her past to confront a demon she accidentally freed as a child – Keyface.
The thing about The Last Key is that it’s noisier than it is scary. Aside from a few genuine shocks, director Adam Robitel seems content to blast sound in place of actual horror. A ghost moves down a hallway? Better shred those violins, that’ll make people jump! Akin to a high school bully who punches people for flinching, Last Key’s tricks are exhausting. Making matters worse is a sequence midway through the film where Tucker uses a microphone with horrendous feedback. The charitable view would be to call the sound design unnerving, but it ends up being more painful than scary.
Wan became famous for walking the audience through his haunted houses and letting them become familiar with the layout before populating it with ghosts and ghouls. Last Key doesn’t need that because the house looks exactly like every other one in the franchise. Robitel hasn’t created a new space; he’s just borrowed the same basement and closet that Wan had so much fun with in the first two films. We’re going through the motions here – the bed, the hallway, the door – it’s all been done before and far better elsewhere.
Where Last Key does differentiate itself is in its subtextual concerns – namely abuse and how silence perpetuates it. Keyface physically locks people’s voices and souls away, and (partially) thanks to Elise he’s been doing this for a while now. There’s rich thematic ground there to explore how both individuals and institutions turn a blind eye to real world ghouls, but unfortunately, Robitel fails to see that potential and instead keeps throwing frustrating noise scares at you.
We live in the era of #timesup and #metoo, but Last Key isn’t thoughtful enough to be included in that conversation. As it stands, it’ll do fine as something to pass the time when it inevitably arrives on streaming services, but will ultimately end up remembered as the low point of the Insidious franchise – the last gasp of a series that was running out of breath two films ago.
Insidious: The Last Key is available in Australian cinemas from February 8
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures